The Pittsburgh Steelers’ first offensive drive of a Week 9 game stalled after getting into Baltimore Ravens territory. Facing a fourth-and-six situation on the Ravens’ 38-yard line, the Steelers were caught in a tough spot.
A 55-yard field goal is a little long for Steelers kicker Chris Boswell, who’s career long is 53 yards. He’s also made just one of his four field goal attempts from 40 yards or longer so far in 2018.
But punting from the 38-yard line is painfully conservative. So the Steelers kept the offense on the field — except they punted anyway.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger ended up doing the job with a punt that would’ve dropped on the 11-yard line had Eric Weddle not alertly ran back to field it and get an 18-yard return.
Why is this a smart strategy?
Pooch punts force the opposition to keep their punt returner on the sideline. With the entire offense on the field, the defense has no choice but to commit all 11 players to avoiding a fourth down conversion.
It’s a brilliant strategy that usually eliminates any possibility of a return. A team just needs a quarterback coordinated enough to drop a short punt over the top of the defense. Roethlisberger’s done it before and he showed again Sunday that he’s capable.
The problem for the Steelers was that he dropped back so deep on the play that it became obvious to everyone — Weddle, in particular — that a punt was coming. The Ravens safety started sprinting back and, with so little field for Roethlisberger to work with, got under the punt that only traveled 27 yards past the line of scrimmage.
His return mostly negated the strategy.
More teams should still do this
A common strategy on fourth-and-short situations is to send the offense out, yell HUT over and over, and hope the defense jumps offsides. But letting the quarterback boot the ball over the heads of the defense almost never happens.
Roethlisberger career: 6 punts, 188 yards, 31.3 yards/punt.
Roethlisberger’s career average would rank last in the NFL in 2018.
At least the QB thing is working out…
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) November 4, 2018
Just by finishing with a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown, Roethlisberger pulled off something no one has done in nearly three decades.
Ben Roethlisberger has a Pass TD, a Rush TD and he’s punted so far today for the Steelers.
The last player to do all 3 in a game was John Elway in 1989 (against the Steelers). pic.twitter.com/jkr0W5vq87
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 4, 2018
Roethlisberger’s lowly punt average is mostly because it’s typically a strategy used deep in the opponents’ territory. But it doesn’t have to be. Tom Brady got off a 58-yard punt when he did it in a playoff game against the Broncos.
The rest of the NFL would be wise to follow the Steelers’ lead with more quarterback pooch punts.